Speak Up, Speak Out!

“Time flies…gasp…as an arrow flies from a…gaaaaasp…bow,
I wish to sit beside…wheeze…..you…gulp…and learn from you”.

Phew! I remember so well that ceremony when, just a few months after my ordination, I had to recite that verse. Alone, aloud and in public. Everybody present was probably silently willing me to get the words out soon, to save themselves from further embarrassment.

I was so lost. Caught up in the struggle to find wind enough to propel something, anything from my already dazed and dizzy self. I got through, I didn’t faint and hours latter I was answering questions at the Chief Juniors Dharma Ceremony. I didn’t loose it although I thought I might.

These ceremonies marked a huge step towards my challenging a life long struggle with ‘shyness’. That’s doing anything in public that marked me out as separate. Reading aloud in class? Well I was never asked as far as I remember. The school Christmas play at the village hall? What a nightmare, all those wretched fairies with wings and wands and sticky-out white dresses. Primroses, primroses and violets sweet as the…….sweet as the…. Nope I still don’t remember what they were as sweet as.

Ten years into my monastic life I found myself in Liverpool, at the Friends Meeting House in the center of town. I was about to give my first public talk on Buddhism. Calming myself, pausing briefly, I launched in with a clear head, and sweaty palms. I survived! I more than survived, I had a ball! Talking in public to total strangers, lots of them, had been my number one ‘can’t do/won’t do’. According to research I stumbled across, people would rather die than talk in public. Such is the level of fear involved.

Life has a way of throwing up opportunities to challenge ones fears. To prove to oneself, perhaps just once, that there IS something deeper than fear which can be relied upon. To find this is to change ones life, for ever. Never mind river rafting, climbing the Matterhorn or biking around the world. Just stand up and speak before strangers, it does it every time.

After the Liverpool talk I remember my mother saying, I can hardly believe you are the same person my dear. I wasn’t.

See also here for a shyness journey. Impressive.

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4 thoughts on “Speak Up, Speak Out!”

  1. Yes…this kind of talk brings back memories; like being the best-man at a friends wedding with 200 or so guests at age 22 and completely drying up (dying would be a better way of putting it) after one sentence! Much more recently I spoke unscripted at a conference to a similiar sized audience and thorougly enjoyed it…but there were many steps between these two events. I guess its a journey many of us take.

  2. I know this very well…the stories that I write have been translated into German and I travel around with my stroytelling partner who plays the harp while I tell the stories in a language other than my mother tongue! The first time we were at a theatre here in Frankfurt and I remember the pounding of my heart as the first sentence in German came out. Somehow, after that first sentence I was just so into what I was doing, that the scared me was gone! Now, it is really a joy! We’ll be touring in the autumn with the book that will be published and then there will be even bigger audiences! Another step in the training, I guess! :0) Jack

  3. Sometimes the only way we can break though barriers like this is to find ourselves trapped. That’s usually when we discover that our fears were misplaced.

    I feared public speaking as well when I was younger. At 21 I found myself an executive position in a company I had helped start. One day the CEO walked in and told me that he was supposed to speak to some students in an hour but couldn’t make it. He asked me to run over and cover for him. I couldn’t say no.

    To make matters worse I found myself, still a year short of my bachelor’s degree, being asked to speak to MBA candidates at nearby university. Most of the students were ten years older, much more accomplished (I assumed), and very skeptical of the kid who was introduced as a corporate Vice-President.

    That day went well. Some of the students challenged me but I realized that if you understand your subject talking about it isn’t difficult. Public speaking hasn’t been difficult since that day.

    Today I speak to groups of people almost daily. My biggest fear is zoning out and going on autopilot due to the number of times I’ve repeated some of my presentations.

  4. Great contributions here, very many thanks for sharing your public speaking journeying.

    I feel for those who continue to struggle with communicating, even on the most basic matters. For some simply asking for something in a shop can be a complete nightmare. The interesting thing is that people in this situation do manage to find ways of working around such difficulties.

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